How To Choose An Online Course Or Membership Platform 

 Updated: August 23, 2021

pick a platform thumbnail

Picking an online course platform is not an easy task.

Especially when you don't even know where to start! There are a lot of options but very few ways to know: ?Which one should I pick?!?

This is a step-by-step of the thinking process you need to have:

Step 1: What Kind Of Online Course Platform?

The very first thing to think about when it comes to tech, whether that's picking an online course platform or a new phone is: what do you need.

What do you actually want the platform to do?

Because it's tempting to just start reading all the reviews and hop on platform?s free trials? but it never starts with the tech! It starts with you and your needs.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I prefer flexibility and customization or ease of use and rapid setup?
  • How do I want my content to be delivered? What would the student's experience be?
  • What features are a must: email, live streaming, drip,...

Starting with what you actually WANT is a lot better to reverse engineer what online course platform you'll need!

This is what will niche down the options of platform you have available.

All in one vs Standalone vs WordPress LMS

One of the main thing to ask yourself in comparing platforms is going to be this question of: Do I want to use an all-in-one platform or a standalone online course platform?

Here is the distinction between the two:

And all-in-one platform helps doing pretty much everything you need to not only delivery your online course but also sell and market it: email, funnel builder, cart, hosting,...

A standalone online course  platform (like Teachable), usually only allows for the basic of delivering the course and hosting the content. It won't have all the bells and whistles an all-in-one has.

This will influence where to look and eliminate platform that definitely won't be a good fit.

If for example you already using an email software (ActiveCampaign, Convertkit, Mailchimp,...) and a funnel builder (ClickFunnels, WordPress builder like Thrive Themes or Elementor,...) then an all-in-one might be less appealing.

If you're starting from scratch and would rather have everything in one place then an all-in-one might be the best option.

Word of caution: an all-in-one is great but only ?good? at everything. You can't compare a standalone funnel builder or a standalone email provider to the same feature in an all-in-one!

It?d be like comparing each feature of your phone (calculator, camera, microphone,...) to standalone items with the same function? that wouldn't really be fair!

> What if I want some thing very specific and customizable?

The ultimate solution for controlling every part of the platform and the student's experience is to used a platform and tool you fully own.

In that case, a WordPress LMS plugin will be your best bet, if you got the stomach to set it up!

Indeed these usually necessitate some basic to advanced knowledge of WordPress and technical questions.

But you sure will be able to have EXACTLY what you want.

Of course emails will still have to be handled by an external tool. (just like standalone platforms)

Here is a graph of where some platforms stand and how to look at it.

Here are some the top 3 platforms of their kind and a full review for each:

Top 3 All-in-one platforms

Top Standalone Online Course Platform

Top 3 WordPress LMS

Step 2: What's the Best Long Term Solution?

Ok so now that you have narrowed down the kind of platform you need, let's think long term.

If you're a course creator and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, then you may be tempted to go for a cheap option.

And there are some very affordable options if you want to get your feet wet.

Platforms like Thinkific and MemberVault have free plans you can try out!

But if you're serious about selling online courses, let's pause for a second and think about 6-12 months from now.

Because changing platform can be very messy and things will get lost:

  • You won't be able to save the student's progress when moving over
  • People WILL complain they lost access
  • A lot of valuable data will be lost
  • You'll have to recreate your courses, re-upload video, re-create pages,...

and a whole lot more problem and time consuming tasks.

So starting off with the right platform long term is usually the best solution, even if it might not be budget friendly for you-  right now.

Going back to the beginning of this article and what you actually want, if for example you KNOW you want a dedicated forum for the course or membership.,, then starting with a platform like Teachable is not a good idea!

If you know you want to be able to control every little details of the design, content delivery and user experience, then going for an all-in-one, out of the box platform is not a good idea either - you'd be much better off with a WordPress LMS plugin.

Similarly, if in the long term you just want to keep things simple and in one place, all-in-on platform monthly payments might tear a hole in your budget for now, but you will be glad you started there next year.

Most times, I've found that for most clients, picking an all-in-one platform works out better in the long term. It'd take wanting a lot of advanced features to outgrow a platform like Kajabi. Even with a massive email list for example, the automations and list management tools you'll have should be way enough for most course creators.

Step 3: What kind of extra tools should I use?

Ok so far we've covered the fundamentals tools and features you'd need as a course creator to properly market your online courses. These I consider would be the following:

  • Course content hosting
  • Email marketing tool
  • Checkout
  • Funnel builder capabilities

That's the basic stuff. And although most platforms will have a few more bells and whistles, I wanted to briefly talk about some pretty nifty tools that you probably won't find out of the box of an online course platform but can be VERY cool to add to your tech stack!

Here are 3 extra goodies for you course creators:

Bonjoro is a personal video maker.

This may not make sense so let me expand on what it does and what you could make with it as a course creators:

You can create quick videos that can be sent via email. But the cool part is that these video can be prompted to be created at very specific times in the student's journey!

So let's say you run a membership and want an easy to way to add a personal touch by welcome each new members?

Well you could setup a trigger in Bonjoro to be prompted to record that video that could go something like ?Hey Dan, I see you've just joined the membership, I'm so glad you're here! Have a look at the different sections in the member's area but don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!?

This is a way to scale the unscalable
To increase progression rate
To improve show-up rate to live videos
To create a better relationship with your students?

And a lot more things!

You've probably seen similar tools as Proof used on sales pages or different stages of a funnel?

These are the little notification bubbles you'd see on the bottom-left of your screen saying ? Marie just enrolled in the course!?

What is that really for: Social Proof

Social proof is one of the few scientifically proven way to create authority for your products.

It's hard to recreate the kind of social proof you might be able to subtly display in an in-person event for example.

But tools like Use Proof enable you to do that online!

And I know what you're thinking: I just hate these when I see them?

But the truth is: just ike many things that seem ?annoying? online (eg: popups, push notification,...) they actually tend to work and increase conversions!

So try it out and see if it helps!

This one is one of my favorite, although it does require some time to setup.

Pointagram is a gamification tool allowing you to create competitions, leaderboard and just make the student's experience throughout your course a lot more fun!

Boosting student's engagement will improve long term value and build a stronger relationship.

Or sometime it just ensures people ACTUALLY go through the course at all!

This one is a little more involvement to setup and will not integrates with most course platform we've talked about in this article. (except for Thinkific)

You'll have to use Zapier.

That being said, there are a lot of possibilities for your course with this tool that will surely please your student's

Joey Mazars

Online Course Platform Expert

Hi, there! I've literally spent thousands of hours helping clients build their online courses on these platforms through my marketing services.

I've become obsessed with helping them find the right fit for their needs and decided to guide other creators through their decision process with these detailed reviews.

Recent Articles:

March 13, 2024

Kajabi Custom Widgets

February 21, 2024

Thrive Apprentice vs LearnDash

February 14, 2024

Circle Pricing

Looking For Help From A Pro?

Book a 15min call and we'll help you decide on the best platform for your needs: